Why wouldn’t we remember Christmas?

Ever since the Roman church fixed Christmas on December 25 (440AD) there have been a vast array of opinions about whether or not we Christians should in fact be celebrating Christ’s birth in this way. Some people wholeheartedly support it and go all out in their celebrations. Others try to avoid it, and mock or despise those who do celebrate Christ’s birth at the time of an old Pagan Sun-god festival. Some families I know refuse to partake in the gift giving of the day (with much sadness for their children).

In 1647 Christmas was abolished in Britain by Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan parliament. December 25 was a working day from 1644 to 1656. There were riots across the country. Christmas church services were broken up by armed soldiers. Shopkeepers came off the worst: if they closed then soldiers forced them to open; if they opened, the rioters forced them to close! Christmas decorations in London were torn down and burned by the mayor. Christmas puddings were banned.

In America the Puritan leaders followed suit and banned Christmas in some states (1659). A New England state law said: “Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas shall pay 5 shillings as a fine.” And you could buy a lot for 5 shillings! The Christmas ban was dropped in 1681 but it wasn’t until 1836 that Alabama said 25 December was to be a holiday, then everyone in the USA copied them. By then people in Victorian Britain had lost interest in Christmas, but when Charles Dickens published “A Christmas Carol” in 1843 they decided Christmas was a wonderful idea.

For me Christmas has always been a wonderful time of year, full of family fun and traditions – but does that justify the celebration? While the commercialism is distracting (and the concept of an jolly Father figure who rewards us according to merit is in total opposition to the forgiveness and grace found in Jesus) I do think there is a case for celebrating wholeheartedly as Christians.

And it all comes down to remembering.

Throughout the history of God’s redemptive intervention into our fallen world, He has told us to keep remembering what he has done.  It was on the basis of the covenant promises given to Abraham that Israel was rescued from slavery (to Egypt and to sin) through Moses. The Passover Lamb which saved them from death (well, God saved them!) was so important to remember that a whole special menu plan was devised. As people ate they would remember, and teach their children to remember what God had done. When the new generation of Israel emerged from the wilderness wanderings (their parents caused), Moses spent a whole book (Deuteronomy) explaining how important it was to remember and obey all the laws God had given, to guide and direct their new lives in the Promised Land. They were to live lives worthy of their God and show the world what he had done for them. He rescued them into a covenant relationship, for the glory of His Name.

So why wouldn’t we remember the one event which reminds us of the time God stepped into human history Himself. This is when the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, to save us!  While the Cross is the thing that saves us, we must remember the beginning of that journey to the Cross: Christ born as a helpless baby, fully God and fully man, in such lowly circumstances. He was born, destined to be despised and rejected, for our sake.

What a great opportunity we have at Christmas time, when even non-Christians are willing to celebrate the birth of a Saviour they do not know! They are remembering, even though they don’t fully understand. We have the full story to share – to explain to them what they are really celebrating! Let’s open the dialogue at every opportunity, even in those long line-ups at the checkout! Let’s show them how to remember in thankfulness and awe the Incarnation of God’s son, sent to save.

May the glory go to our great God this Christmas – as we remember!

You may also enjoy:

Great Christmas music                                    Is He really making a list and checking it twice?

What thankfulness can do

Old Testament 1 exam now completed. Very thankful for what I’ve learned; also thankful for the break from study. Now I can get back to the blogging!

Just sharing today a short list of 5 benefits of gratitude, which a fellow blogger posted over at “Revelling in the Overflowing Grace of God”. While most Americans are celebrating their Thanksgiving Day it is worth stopping to consider why we should build gratitude into our lives every day.

“Gratitude, the act of giving thanks, can:
1. Refocus our attention… Our lives are filled with distractions. Perhaps if we began our day with gratitude, we would not get up with the weight of the world on our shoulders.
2. Relieve anxiety… Most of us know Philippians 4:6-7. … do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Thanksgiving shoves aside anxiety and replaces it with peace, not just any peace, but the “peace of God, which surpasses all understanding!”
3. Refresh our relationship… When I’m showing gratitude, it keeps me from thinking that it’s all about me and my needs. I’m focused on God instead of me. That one’s a little tricky, because I’m giving thanks for things that are important to me. Still, I’m giving glory to God for those things.
4. Reinforce our faith… Remembering God’s past faithfulness boosts confidence in his present and future grace.
5. Rejoice our spirit… “Thanksgiving is the best way to dig ourselves out of the doldrums of discouragement.”

Colossians 2:6-7 has some relevant words of encouragement to add here on the source of thankfulness:

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. (NLT)

Happy Thanksgiving! (I’ve never said that before.)

You are “I AM”

Things have been pretty quiet for the last week or so at Sevennotes. I’m studying for an exam in “Old Testament 1” (through Moore College External Studies). This subject focuses on the Pentateuch (first five books) and has been such an eye-opening journey, informing my understanding of everything else I read in the Bible. So I’ll call this ‘studying’ and share with you a few things I have been learning. The concepts are also refered to in a great song I heard today (for the first time), YOU ARE ‘I AM’ by Mercy Me. (You can listen at the end).

“I AM” is the name by which God revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush.
“I AM who I am” . . .”I AM has sent me to you” . . .”This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered”. (Exodus 3:14-15)
The Hebrew form of this name is Yahweh (seen in our English bibles as “LORD” in small capitals). This name expresses God’s character as the dependable, faithful God who desires the full trust of his people. In John 8:58-59 Jesus applied this name to Himself. Here are some other significant things I’ve learned about the name:
1. Giving the name established a relationship with the Israelites and made worship possible. The name was exclusively given to Israel, the name by which God would be known and worshipped.
2. In giving His name, God gave Himself. Yahweh established a new personal relationship with Moses – this was extended to the Israelites when they received his name in the Sinai covenant (Exodus 19) before the 10 Commandments were given. Note that God redeemed Israel and brough them into the covenant relationship before the law was given (ie. The Law can’t save).
3. The “I AM” name reminds us of God’s faithful and unchanging nature.
4. Faith included a personal response to God – Moses responded to God’s revelation of His name, in faith. This is how the Israelites were to respond. (This is how we must respond.)
5. To call on the new covenant name ‘Yahweh’ was to appeal to the covenant relationship which the giving of the name established.

God’s faithfulness to his own promises is what we must rely on! We draw on his faithfulness when we call on his name. For me this has really changed the significance those opening words of our prayers: “Dear God”. We are calling on all that He has done and all He is. The song below reminds us of all He is, and all we are in relation to the One who is “I AM”. (Thanks for studying with me!)

I’ve been the one to shake with fear
And wonder if You’re even here
I’ve been the one to doubt Your love
I’ve told myself You’re not enough

I’ve been the one to try and say
I’ll overcome by my own strength
I’ve been the one to fall apart
And to start to question who You are

You’re the one who conquers giants
You’re the one who calls out kings
You shut the mouths of lions
You tell the dead to breathe
You’re the one who walks through fire
You take the orphan’s hand
You are the one Messiah
You are I am
You are I am

I’ve been the one held down in chains
Beneath the weight of all my shame
I’ve been the one to believe
That where I am You cannot reach

You’re the one who conquers giants
You’re the one who calls out kings
You shut the mouths of lions
You tell the dead to breathe
You’re the one who walks through fire
You take the orphan’s hand
You are the one Messiah
You are I am
You are I am

The veil is torn
And now I live with the Spirit inside
The same one, the very same one
who brought the Son back to life

Hallelujah, He lives in me (x4)

“It’s always a good time”

Sometimes when I go to the gym in an attempt to work the knots out of my muscles, I feel rather out of place. It doesn’t bother me that I don’t fit in with the gym junkies, in the pink fluoro outfits and expensive running shoes. It is more the music film clips on the big screens all around that make me feel rather awkward. There is something about staring at women, in what equates to their swimming costumes (or less), singing and dancing rather erotically in front of my eyes that just doesn’t seem right. Images that would have been classified as pornography 40 years ago are now the stock standard of the gym environment.

Anyway, let me get to the point. In the midst of all these rather alarming images I was pleasantly surprised to encounter a film clip where the people were fully clothed (though the shorts are quite short!). They were not making “out” together, and the activities they participated in during the unfolding narrative looked more like a youth group camping trip than the events at a strip club. This is a good thing. They even cooked marshmallows on the fire, but there was no singing of Kum Ba Yah. . . . Instead they were singing their new “party anthem”  – “It’s Always a Good time” with Owl City’s Adam Young with Carly Rae Jepsen. (How clever was he, to enlist the “Call me maybe” girl in his latest hit!) Now I must warn you if you listen to this song, it may get stuck in your head for hours, which could be a good or bad thing, depending on your reaction.

If you are not aware of Owl City (from #1 songs like Fireflies and Vanilla Twilight – the ultimate “what is that in the sky” situation) he is a rather unconventional performer/composer/musician who comes across as a home grown good guy from Minnesota. He also happens to be a Christian. And despite all the references to the carefree Gen Y lifestyle (the phone, the ATM, the sleeping all day to get up at twilight) there is a clear and simple acknowledgement in this song that we have been blessed with a good life.

“We don’t even have to try, it’s always a good time.” is the catch phrase of the song.

Absolutely! We can move, sing, shout, enjoy friendships, eat, laugh – there’s so much good stuff to enjoy, simple things. We don’t even have to try that hard to enjoy this life – because it is good! We don’t need to alter our minds with drugs or alcohol to experience good things. God’s creation is good. Yes it is a creation marred by our rebellion, but God’s grace to us is that we don’t have to live out our days in misery. (Perhaps it is often our own ungrateful or entitled attitudes that make us think life is all bad!)

Yes, Adam Young, life is good.
It’s even better if you have peace with your Creator and the hope of eternal life through Christ.

You can also check out Owl City’s version of ‘In Christ Alone’ here.

And if you are interested, here is a little more on Owl City which I’m borrowing from Wikipedia (with good references!):
“Owl City’s music is described as indietronica and synthpop and is often described as belonging under the “electronic music” label.  Young has stated that he is inspired by disco and European electronic music, as well as instrumental genres such as drone, ambient, and post-rock. He cites his biggest influences as Johnathon Ford of Unwed Sailor and Thomas Newman. Young also incorporates a large amount of his Christian faith into his music, since he is a vocal Christian. Young’s faith is evident on the album, “All Things Bright and Beautiful”, especially in “Galaxies”. Explaining why the faith-filled song was added to the mix, he said, “I feel like if I were ever to hide the fact that that’s what’s so important to me, it would be a crime, that I should probably be put in jail for that.”

Fullness of grace in man’s human frailty

I have been dusting off all my Christmas CDs in anticipation of that most wonderful time of the year. A song I’ve enjoyed for quite a while (on the Christmas album NEW IRISH HYMNS 3: INCARNATION) has just been re-released on the newest Getty album: Joy – An Irish Christmas. The song is called “Fullness of Grace.” It effectively captures how the Incarnation event, when God became Man in Christ, is all about Jesus’ willing choice to wrap himself in our frail human form – an embodiment of the grace of God. Though he was despised and rejected he was obedient to the Cross, that we might be forgiven. This is such a simple message, yet so many miss the grace of Jesus Christ. Might we be faithful in focusing on and carrying this message of grace throughout the Christmas season. (You can listen to the new or old versions of the songs, with different singers, by clicking on the title/link to that album, or watch the clip at the end.)

Fullness of grace in man’s human frailty
This is the wonder of Jesus
Laying aside His power and glory
Humbly He entered our world
Chose the path of meanest worth

Scandal of a virgin’s birth
Born in stable cold and rejected
Here lies the hope of the world

Fullness of grace the love of Father
Shown in the face of Jesus
Stooping to bear the weight of humanity
Walking the Calvary road
Christ the Holy Innocent

Took our sin and punishment
Fullness of God, despised and rejected
Crushed for the sins of the world

Fullness of hope in Christ we had longed for
Promise of God in Jesus
Through His obedience we are forgiven
Opening the floodgates of heaven
All our hope and dreams we bring

Gladly as an offering
Fullness of life and joy unspeakable
God’s gift in love to the world

You may also enjoy:

Great Christmas music
to ease your planning stress
                                       Why wouldn’t we remember Christmas?
ChristmasSheetMusicdec 25

Science and God: still playing on the same team

While the “new athiest” movement is doing its best to persuade people otherwise, there remains an incredible amount of harmony between the world of scientific knowledge and the Christian faith. The main reason why this (perhaps unrecognised) harmony is possible is that science and faith are really asking different types of questions about the universe. This means that ultimately we don’t have to pick one team or the other! These thoughts are the subject of Scott Petty’s most engaging Little Black Book “Science and God” (part of a series published by Matthias Media, 2011).

Petty begins by asking us to consider whether or not fact and faith really are locked in a tenacious battle to the death, which is by and large the way popular culture presents the issue. And the winner of this battle, we are told, will be Science! with Faith backed only by rigid conservative moralists – and stupid people! We need to look beyond these popular portrayals of the issue to see that science and Christianity have in fact enjoyed a long friendship stretching back centuries. Petty cites evidence of many science-focused Christians, past and present, who have advanced scientific research and knowledge. And such findings in no way contradict the claims of the Bible.

This is the heart of the matter: science and faith are answering different questions. One answers the question of how the universe works – the other answers the question of why the universe exists. “Just because we think we have understood the mechanism or operation of something in the universe without bring in God does not mean that there was no God who designed the universe in the beginning.” Petty uses a great illustration of the Ford motor car: gaining knowledge of the workings of the car does not negate the fact that Ford designed it, even though, within the car, Henry Ford is no where to be found. God may not visible to the human eye, but it would be a big mistake to dismiss the Him as designer, without precious scientific evidence to prove his non-existence (if that is what you are placing your faith in).

This book has a great deal more to offer, particularly regarding how the Big Bang theory (not the TV show) matches well with God’s explanation for the Creation moment, that single definite point at which the universe was created, out of nothing! Petty shares recent evidence from Hubble telescope and other research to back this. “It denies plain reason to say that no-one created something out of nothing, and it demolishes the building blocks of science to say that when it comes to the universe, there is no cause”.

Chapter 3 of this little book explores all the factors which work together to support life on the planet, things like gravity and the atmosphere. Petty then moves onto the ultimate chicken and egg problem of human DNA: “if you believe life emerged from non-living things like chemicals and such” you have problem, says Petty. “DNA relies on proteins for its production. But proteins rely on DNA for their existence. So which came first? Each must be present for the other to be made. It seems neither proteins nor DNA could create themselves”.

Petty deals with each of these points in good detail and with appropriate references to reputable studies. He also tackles the big “challenge” of evolution in a clear and effective manner, diffusing the bomb that some people see it to be. He also discusses the language and purpose of the biblical Creation account in a refreshing way, offering perspectives you may not have previously considered. But rather than give all that away, I’ll leave it with you to get a hold of the book and read it for yourself. Make sure you then pass it on to someone who finds the whole Science/Faith debate to be a real challenge. It would be a great book for your church or council library, for youth groups, university or highschool students – or anyone like you or me who live on this planet and must wrestle with these issues. There are only 96 pages of reading (and the pages are small, size of a CD case), with a helpful Q and A section at the end. Petty concludes with a friendly challenge to the reader, to consider that while scientific knowledge is useful, it is the personal and relational knowledge of God, through his Son, that counts most.
“God is not afraid of science, and he also knows that it’s not enough if we are to know him. In the past he spoke through the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son”.

You can buy a copy of the book directly from Matthias Media by clicking here.

No wonder there is no wonder

Yesterday I found these words scrawled on an old crumbly piece of paper in the bottom of my filing cabinet: (from Max Lucado, In the Grip of Grace – 1996, p15.)
The loss of mystery has led to the loss of majesty
The more we know the less we believe.
No wonder there is no wonder.
We think we have figured it all out.
Strange, don’t you think?
Knowledge of the workings shouldn’t negate the wonder.
Knowledge should stir wonder.
Who has more reason to worship than the astronomer who has seen the stars?
Than the surgeon who has held a heart?
Than the oceanographer who has pondered the depths”.

Now there was a reason I copied those words by hand from Lucado’s book quite a while ago. I was probably wanting to be reminded that the heavens declare the glory of God, that day after day creation pours forth speech about our Maker (Psalm 19). I wanted to be challenged not to allow my understanding of the universe, by virtue of my education, to deny me the pleasure of “wondering” at God’s ultimate creativity.

But the reason I am sharing them today is slightly different. Since I’ve being doing a few theological subjects lately, these words got me thinking about the wonder of our salvation, and the “danger” of theological study. When approached as a purely academic exercise, Bible students can easily lose some of the wonder of the Cross. The greatness of God, and the immensity of His grace to us in Christ, can become smaller in our eyes because we think we understand it! Worse still we can become proud of our ability to wrap our brains around the mystery of Christ. In some ways this is also the lot of a composer or professional musician who cannot enjoy the wonder of the symphony for their awareness of all the notes!

Then as I was thinking these thoughts, and preparing to wrestle with revising Numbers and Deuteronomy today, I read a great post on this very dilemma over at Mere Inkling (where C.S. Lewis’ thoughts are explored regularly) a post entitled Theological Training.

Here is how it begins: “I’m proud I graduated from a well-respected seminary. And I’m proud of following that Master of Divinity degree with an advanced Master of Theology degree in Patristics. And that’s precisely the problem . . . I’m proud. As a Christian, I recognize that pride is one of the most destructive and insidious sins. . .” Read more

As I do my own study today I pray that God will keep from me the sin of pride in understanding Him, and focus my thoughts instead on the grace that I am called His child. (Actually, writing this post has helped greatly with that!)